There is a considerable amount of usually solid Canadian talent that shows up in the neo-noir comedy Three Days in Havana that makes the film’s failure all the more frustrating to behold. Written and directed by the duo of leading man Gil Bellows and Tony Pantages, it bears all the hallmarks of a troubled production that ran out of control. Slack where it should be tight and almost nonsensically assembled, the film clocks in at a scant 71 minutes when you lop the credits off of it and it’s still hard to tell if the film is too long or too short.
Bellows stars as Jack Petty, a Vancouver based insurance agent on his way to Havana for a conference he isn’t much looking forward to. Worried that he won’t have a chance to enjoy the sights in his limited time in Cuba, he starts up a friendship with Harry Smith (Greg Wise), a heavy drinking and almost chronically coked up travel reporter who knows his way around town. It turns out that Smith, who one day turns up dead in Jack’s bathroom murdered, might have been an assassin sent by a debt collector (Phyllida Law) to take out a major crime boss. Now Harry is mistaken for an assassin and forced to clear his name.
No two elements of Three Days in Havana ever go together. Bellows and Pantages can never decide if they want to make an Antonioni styled new wave flick, a Hitchcockian “wrong man” thriller, or a Tarantino knock-off. Sometimes there will be edgy montages, other moments characters will do takes directly to the camera in mid-conversation, and other times Jack can be filmed in slow motion so he just looks cooler. It’s a hodgepodge of styles and choices that might seem cool on their own and in the moment, but they lead to a disorienting whole.
Then again, that style seems almost the direct result of a script that’s predictable, but also never seems to know where it’s headed. Entire chunks of the story that could bother explaining just who these people are, their motivations, or how they even move the story along are excised somewhere along the way making the whole thing feel linear and spectacularly incoherent at the same time. The whole movie feels like Bellows and Pantages are purposefully leaving gaps as part of some kind of clever shell game to set up some sort of big reveal at the end, but when the movie simply throws up its hands at the climax without ever once finding a logical way to explain away anything that happened the whole thing ends up feeling like a waste of time and an excuse for a paid vacation to Havana for everyone involved.
Why make a big deal about a member of the Canadan embassy being in on the conspiracy and then not explain how he ever got away with it and why he’s ready and willing from the first meet with Jack to turn into a villain? Why cast Don McKellar as a Frenchman if you are only going to have him in two scenes, give him nothing at all to say, and then prove that both scenes are completely useless even as misdirection? Actually, that last statement goes for every character in the film with a bit part. People will show up, leave, and then it will turn out that none of them ever mattered anyway because the story is ultimately as straightforward as it gets with none of the film’s “twists” making a lick of sense or having any narrative impact or purpose. It’s a shell game, alright, but one that isn’t trying to con the audience well enough since they forgot to put a ball under any of the shells they have moving around.
Even as the lead Bellows seems distracted. He never seems interesting enough at the outset to make the audience want to follow him around, and he never acts terrified enough to be a patsy until far too late in the second half, and even then it’s wasted when he turns into a posturing tough guy with no logical arc for it to work. He’s kind of a blank slate to rally around, and it looks like he might have rightfully had his mind in other places; like trying to figure out just how to make this mess work in the first place. It’s a shame because Bellows has a great wit and charisma that he’s been able to showcase elsewhere, but none of it is on display here.
Then there’s the ending which might be one of the most maddeningly nonsensical conclusions in recent memory. It would almost be comedic how little the end of the film adds up and how much it negates every scene that came before it with almost a dismissive wave of the hand, but it’s too dull and truncated to even elicit a chuckle. At least the film moves at a brisk pace, feeling less like a torturous three days with these people and more like a passing encounter that will be forgotten about in less time than it takes the movie to shamble onto the plane shown taking off in the film’s final shot.